First Level Assessment-

Land use History of the Little River Watershed

Agricultural Practices

As noted in the timber section, before crops could be planted settlers were faced with cutting and clearing the forest.  Stumps were often left a few years to rot, and crops were sown amongst them (DeMerchant, 1983).  In Perley’s (1857) Handbook of Information for Emigrants to New Brunswick, he suggests that “No emigrant should undertake to clear land and make a farm, unless he has the means of supporting his family for 12 months.” However, it was not just a matter of the financial resources of individuals. Since in the early 1800’s the province as a whole was not self-sufficient agriculturally, it is unlikely the communities along the Little River were either.  Given the initial logistical challenges of transporting food to remote homesteads, it is doubtful that importation of food was as practical as in urban centres. More likely for the early English settlers, subsistence agriculture was supplemented with food available from the forest and river.  Even as late as 1876 fishing regulators noted that farmers devoted a significant portion of their time to fishing salmon, with most of the entire catch being used for home consumption (Commissioner of Fisheries 1877). This pattern had been established previously on the Petitcodiac River.  In 1783 while Robert Colpitts first crop at his farm near Salisbury was ripening, his family’s main source of food was salmon (Moncton Daily Times, Thursday August 26th 1920).  In fact as early as 1852, concerns were being expressed about noticeable declines in the once abundant salmon population on the Petitcodiac (Elson 1962).  At first this was presumed to be a consequence of overfishing, though by the 1870s it was recognized to be a result of issues with fish passage at dams.

Baillie (1832) indicated that a “tolerably good” road went up the Coverdale River.  However he went on to qualify that by noting that “generally speaking it is not fit for carriages”, which suggests that foot, horse, and perhaps limited cart traffic may have been the norm.  Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the arrival of the Salisbury – Albert Railroad in 1877 reduced many of the logistical constraints on bringing supplies into the lower end of the Little River watershed, and moving surpluses out to trade. Freight traffic of food along this line in 1887 amounted to 384.9 tons of flour, 190.9 tons of grain, and 873 head of livestock (The Maple Leaf Thursday January 12th 1888). However, as was mentioned earlier in the forestry section, much of that would have been in transit through the watershed, originating from points beyond such as Hillsborough or communities at or near the Fundy coast, and so does not actually provide much of an indication one way or the other of the productivity of the watershed.  Also, unlike the forest products (which, given the abundance of forests locally, would likely have been a one-way flow out to market), a portion of the total agricultural freight carried may have been inbound for local consumption rather than an outbound surplus being sold elsewhere.  Comparison of the roads in 1878 (Dawson 2005) serving  the area from what later became Colpitts Settlement on downstream to Salisbury, to those in the rest of the watershed upstream of that point, suggests that like today, the bulk of agricultural activity was in the lower valley (New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources 2023).

Nearby, marketable surpluses of food were being produced on the Pollett River with reports of potatoes being sent via the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway to as far away as Boston in 1887 (Moncton Daily Times, Monday October 1887), and cattle to Saint John the following year (The Maple Leaf, Albert NB, Thursday October 18th 1888).  Similarly from along the Fundy coast the Salisbury – Albert Railway was carrying hay from Riverside to Halifax, and cattle from Harvey to Saint John (The Maple Leaf, Thursday January 12th 1888). So communities in the Little River watershed were likely tied into such economic activity and (particularly in the case of those in the upper reaches of the river) if they were not contributing to these agricultural surpluses, then they likely served as local markets.

Dawson (2005) shows that by 1878  the road network within the Little River watershed looked quite recognizable to the modern eye, with roads of some kind present along many of the routes that are significant enough to be paved today, though obviously these wouldn’t have been developed to that extent then.  In 1893 the lack of good roads was still described as one of the greatest constraints on agriculture (The Daily Times, Saturday April 23rd, 1893).  Next door on the Pollett River, upstream of Elgin, there were actually many more roads in place by 1878 than remain in the area today (Dawson 2005; Natural Resources Canada 2010).  Between the First and Second World Wars most of the scattered farms that had been established on the Pollett above Elgin were abandoned and allowed to revert back to forest (Elson 1962), as many people left the area during that time to search for more arable land out west (Department of Natural Resources 2007; Degraaf et al. 2007). In contrast, the headwaters of the Little River in 1878 had fewer roads (Dawson 2005), suggesting these areas were not nearly as settled. While no doubt this region also lost population, the effect was less pronounced.

In May 1911 the portion of the Salisbury – Albert Railway south from Hillsborough to Albert was in financial distress and was temporarily closed down, leaving the line operating only from Salisbury to Hillsborough (Sackville Tribune, Thursday July 13th 1911). It was eventually purchased by the Dominion of Canada and operated by the Intercolonial Railway  (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015a). The Section of track from Albert to Salisbury continued to operate although with only one train per week up to 1946, though the section from Hillsborough to Salisbury still had daily trains during this period.  Meanwhile the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway was not profitable either, and went bankrupt in 1890.  It was sold to the government in 1918 and operated by the Intercolonial Railway (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015b) until that was taken over by Canadian National in 1919 (Marsh 1999).